I was recently asked to take a look at the recently released GoPro Fusion. GoPro was the real leader in the action camera space and while other vendors have been playing in the 360 market, the FUSION is the current market entry from the action camera experts at Go Pro. Let's have a look
The FUSION comes in a nicely laid out box containing the camera, a USB-C cable to charge the battery, two adhesive mounts, a locking screw and a telescoping handle that looks sickenly like a selfie stick but is pretty much integral to using the device as a 360 camera unless you want yourself in every image.
Documentation would need to be much more comprehensive to even earn the title of minimal. Mostly it is iconography and implies that no buyer actually reads the documentation. This was disappointing because while there are two micro-SD slots, only one came populated with a 16GB card and the camera appears to need a card in both slots to be usable.
You will need to download the GoPro app from the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android in order the really get the most from the device. The on camera menus are easy to use, but rather simplistic and the real functionality gets best exposed in the app.
Startup is very quick, under 3 seconds in my experience from being completely off. There are two lenses, one on each side of the device and record start is prompt, with stop taking a bit longer to write the files completely.
In addition to the basic app, you are going to want to get the Quik app for your smart device and for your PC. I would also strongly recommend downloading GoPro Fusion Studio for your PC or Mac so you can do some decent editing of your 360 footage. Quik enables the rapid editing of short clips for sharing on social media but for proper editing, you are going to want Studio.
The workstation used in testing is a Lenovo P70 laptop. It was built with video editing in mind, so is heavily populated with memory and fast GPU systems. As I was installing Studio, it also included the GoPro VR player and for its install it automatically added a plugin for Adobe Premiere Pro. Nice to see enablement for professional grade editors. A separate set of VR plugins were installed and auto detected Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects.
Shooting video and stills with the Fusion is a piece of cake. GoPro figured this part of user interface out a long time ago. Shoot until the card fills up. Then connect to the computer with the supplied cable and launch Fusion. It can read the camera and download the videos and stills, and then once you have done your basic editing, you can render the files for playback and sharing. The GoPro Fusion Studio app does not handle the P70's hi res display well and you have to maximize the window to see all the elements and buttons as the basic window will not scale top to bottom. I've seen other applications have issues with the hi res display so this is annoying but not a show stopper.
I did find a complete owner's manual on the web for the Fusion, but the documentation did not exist for Fusion Studio. The only docs available are for the older GoPro Studio app from years back.
Editing and Sharing
The Quik desktop app is designed to build shorts a maximum of 30 seconds long for use on social media with your Fusion footage. It's a very basic app that does exactly what it says it does. There is no documentation, but there is a tutorial embedded in the Help system.
I noted that the GoPro software contains expired security certificates and also has a propensity to want to phone home and to talk to Google Analytics. I find this particularly annoying although I expect that the target buyer has already given up on privacy if they use social media.
I was unable to get the Studio software to load files off a hard drive, however when I connected the camera directly via USB, it showed all the clips on the camera card and I was able to select, do some basic trimming, and choose either GoPro, Flat or manual colour tuning. There are also corrections available for Yaw, Pitch and Roll as well as to apply differing levels of stabilization.
As one would expect, there is significant distortion on the edges, not surprising given the large round lens elements. When you move your edit to the render queue and render it, you have choices of resolution and output target.
The default video codec is GoPro's own CINEFORM 4:2:2, but you can opt for H.264 or ProRes 422. Video resolutions include 5.2K, 4K, 3K and 2K. I shot all my test clips at 5.2K although the camera offers you a 2.7K capture option for smaller files.
You can also decide between stereo audio or 360 audio. I must advise that the free built in mics are passable but not better. If you want to run external audio in, you will need the Pro 3.5mm mic adapter that plugs into the USB-C port and provides a mic input and USB-C pass-through.
The Fusion Studio app does not have a grab still function, but you can use the GoPro Fusion to take stills and you do have control over the look so you can get the full 360 in a pano like image or if you want the tiny planet still image, you can have that instead.
The video files that come out of the camera need proper processing. You can view them without processing but they look odd as seen is this still frame.
I will say that the colour looks quite good, certainly as good as other 360 cameras. Where the GoPro really excels is in the stitching process to produce the 360 video. It's faster and looks a lot better than the competitors that I have tested and does not create artefacts as the others do.
I was very pleased to see that GoPro Fusion Studio has built in render export presets for Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo, all of which can show 360 video. While I shot all my test clips in 5.2K resolution, when I selected the Vimeo output, it automatically downresed the file and changed the codec to H.264. You still upload your rendered video manually, but in my test Vimeo detected that it was 4K 360 degree video automatically. You can watch a directly exported video with no corrections applied here.
At 899.99 CAD, the Fusion is not a casual purchase, but the vlogger or videographer who requires very good 360 footage from a small, solidly built and pocketable camera will love the device. It also leverages the incredibly wide GoPro eco-system of accessories. It will also work with the GoPro wireless remote which means that you do not have to have your smartdevice connected to control it.
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